You’ll have to come out of your shell in order to enjoy today’s food holiday. May 16 is National Coquilles St. Jacques Day!
Or, as I referred to it when I first learned of it, National what St. who day?! What can I say, my French is a little rusty. (By the way, considering these are American food holidays, there sure have been a lot of French dishes celebrated. Must be a lobbyist named Pierre working his ass off up on Capitol Hill). Coquille St. Jacques, it turns out, translates to “Scallops St. James.” I’m still not sure how James is the same as Jacques, but then again, I’ve never understood how Dick is derived from Richard, so it’s a moot point. Anyway, once I learned the dish was based on scallops, I breathed a sigh of relief. I love scallops!
St. James was an apostle who, according to legend, once rescued a drowning knight covered in scallops. That dude failed the first rule of Knighthood 101: always remove your armor prior to swimming. No doubt he never lived down the fact that he was attacked by a bunch of fierce, bloodthirsty bivalves. In any case, St. James became associated with scallops, and medieval Christians who made the pilgrimage to his shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain often wore scallop shells on their clothing, or carried them along. The grooves on the shell supposedly represent the different paths the pilgrims would take to arrive at the same destination: the cathedral. When the scallop shell was presented at a church or castle, the pilgrim was allowed to take as much food as he could carry in a single scoop. The pilgrim would walk away with a scallop shell full of oats, barley, or another grain. Or – if he were really lucky – beer or wine.
Coquilles St. Jacques is traditionally made with scallops poached in white wine. They are then placed atop a scallop shell over sauteed mushrooms and topped with poaching liquid, cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs, and broiled until crisp. Pretty fancy! Only, we were plum out of scallop shells. Fortunately, I found a recipe that allows you to use ramekins instead. Whew! It turned out delicious, too. Which is great, considering neither of us had ever heard of the dish before embarking upon this challenge.